Riven Doggeries

Riven Doggeries by James Tate

James Tate has always been one of my favorite poets; his Selected Poems really opened a door for me, in understanding and enjoying poetry.  I have purchased and read his readily  available books, and most of the scarce ones, but when I saw this copy of Riven Doggeries (his seventh book)in a used bookstore, I couldn’t resist it.

This is an inscribed copy of the 1978 Ecco Press paperback edition. It’s not signed by Tate, but from one woman to another:

Spring 1981
To Diane
I found this book for you last week . It’s a sort of an unbirthday present, and to say that I believe in your artistic genius. There’s more to say, but later. I remembered you liked Tate’s Lost Pilot from last summer…and that I went to high school with him. More on that later. God bless you..

So it’s from a mother to her daughter? Friend to friend? Somebody that went to high school with James Tate, anyway. A book with a little history.

And revisiting these poems (nearly all my books are in storage) reminds me why I read them to begin with. Tate is a wonderful writer of surreal comic narrative poems that take you places you have never been.

The Shy One

Don’t look at me
splintering these daffodils,
when I’m at my worst
defoliating their atoms:
I’m one of the hideously weak sort,
a silhouette that roosts
on a streetlamp and
murmurs a low fire.

Of course I sometimes blame it
on the circumstances
of my unholy birth,
hanging there, a stranger
torn by solitary comets:
How could I see beyond
that somber spark?

I spoke words on a banjo
swooning in mint sauce,
heard dulcimer squalls
in my hot suite.
If I could sing like poultry,
with flaming green lips
wag my head through perfume,
I would be as pleased
as a tipster nomad
in his bath. Alone and proud,

proud cloud poised above my wrist
and cruel chords remembering…
And because of this
and so much more, I am allowed
to scratch my way to the surface again:
A fabulous homing instinct remains,
and wounds.

Grade: A.


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